Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 33), sponsored by Representative Lou Barletta (R-Pa.).
H.R. 33 codifies a previous IRS ruling that determined that volunteers should not be counted as employees for the purposes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) Employer Shared Responsibility Provision (ESRP). H.R. 33 is now headed to the Senate, where it is awaiting action.
Under the PPACA's shared responsibility provision, an employer with 50 or more fulltime employees must offer affordable and adequate healthcare coverage to its employees. Under the law, fulltime means working 30 hours or more per week on average. The IAFC raised serious concerns about how this requirement would affect fire departments that rely on volunteers who frequently volunteer more than 30 hours a week to protect their communities.
The association's efforts included educating both members of Congress and the Administration. In January 2014, as a result of these efforts, the U.S. Department of Treasury issued clarification that volunteer and combination departments are not required to provide health insurance for their volunteer personnel.
The Treasury's ruling went further and exempted all volunteers for governmental and nonprofit organizations from being considered employees for the purposes of the ESRP. This additional clarification is important for establishing that other volunteer personnel, such as members of fire police units and auxiliary associations, would be exempt from the ESRP as well.
If passed in the Senate, H.R. 33 would codify this ruling and prevent it from being altered in the future.
"The IAFC thanks Rep. Barletta for once again standing up for the fire and emergency service," said Chief G. Keith Bryant, IAFC president and chairman of the board. "Volunteer firefighters perform essential community service at great risk in all 50 states. We urge the House and Senate to secure final passage of the bipartisan legislation and remove once and for all an unintended consequence of healthcare reform."
Evan Davis is the IAFC's government relations manager and liaison to the EMS Section.